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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Eyes on the Prize
distributed 1/19/17 - ©2017

A text for Inauguration Day, 2017
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (Psalm 46:1-3)

On Friday, the earth will change -- if not physically, then certainly politically and culturally. The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States is earth shaking for those of us in the US. The repercussions will spread quickly and powerfully across much of the planet.

To be sure, many US voters are grateful and excited about the coming tumult. An earthquake might "drain the swamp" and cause the rivers of change to flow in different directions. I know there are a few folk with those sentiments among the readers of Eco-Justice Notes, but I don't think there are very many. (Let me know if I've mis-read my audience!)

In my communities of reference, Friday, January 20th is not a day of celebration. Among my friends and colleagues, my fellow activists for environmental and social change, and most of the far-flung constituency of Eco-Justice Ministries, the official start of the Trump years is disorienting, upsetting and frightening.

I don't hear many people expressing the strong confidence of the Psalmist these days, that "we will not fear" with this change of the landscape. Instead, I am hearing lots of anxiety, anger and confusion.

In this moment of profound transition, my reflections take the form of a metaphor, using the earthquake imagery of the psalm. Take a few moments for a guided meditation.

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Imagine that you are taking a trip through a region of mountains or large hills. This isn't just a day trip or a vacation jaunt. It is a purposeful journey. You are on the way to somewhere important.

You might be travelling alone, or there might be a few good friends along with you, but you're in pretty isolated country. There are not crowds of other people around you. I'll let you decide if you are making this journey on foot, or if you're driving. You are up on the side of a large slope, with broad vistas opening up around you.

Then comes the earthquake. (Don't be so surprised. I warned you it was coming!) The mountains around you tremble, trees sway and break, the waters of lakes and streams slosh and foam. You are jostled and shaken, but not seriously hurt.

Ahead of you, though, there is loud crashing and a rising cloud of dust. Cautiously, you move forward until you can see that the entire hillside has broken loose, sliding into the valley below. The path that you had been following is gone, and a jumble of unstable rocks stretches into the distance. Aftershocks may cause even more damage soon.

You had been on your way, in territory that was unfamiliar but predictable. Now, you are brought to a halt. There seems to be no way to go ahead. Forces beyond your control have demolished your expectations. Your maps through this hill country -- whether mental, on paper, or on a GPS screen -- no longer give you accurate information.

The earth has changed. Check in with your feelings. Are you afraid, confused, angry, hopeless? Do your feelings evoked by this guided meditation mesh at all with your feelings from current events?

What can you do? Your path is gone. Now what? (Remember -- I'm working on a metaphor about today's world. This is not a lesson in back country survival, so don't get too detailed!)

In our modern world, the immediate reaction of many people would be to pull out their cell phone and call for help. "Send a helicopter and pluck me from the wilderness!" Sorry, folks, that's not an option in this time of political transition.

You could just sit down and wait. Wait to die in this horrible new world, or wait for somebody else to come to your rescue. These choices spring from despair and powerlessness. They are not enticing or energizing options.

You could try to go back, retracing your way to a place that is safer and more familiar. But you weren't trying to go home, or back to the old days. You were on your way to someplace new and exciting. Going back is a different kind of failure.

Ah, but you are a do-er, a forceful and committed person. You had decided to take this route through the mountains, and by golly, you'll do it. No matter how hard it is, or how long it takes, you will build a new path across the landslide. You will gather those who are near you in a heroic effort to follow your well-laid plans. (This may be the most likely option if you were navigating through the mountains with a GPS or somebody's written out directions. Your only instructions are for the next few steps, and are not capable of adapting to the changes that have suddenly occurred.)

Or -- thankfully coming to the end of my list of options -- you could reflect for a while on what has happened, and come to the realization that there are other ways to get to your intended destination. You might have to hike off the trail for a while, or go back down the road for a little way until you can plot a different course on safer roads. The route up the valley looked good when you started, but it is no longer viable. The important thing is not to stick with the plan, but to get to your goal.

Take a deep breath, and step away from this meditation.

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We're getting a different President tomorrow. Bam. The earth has changed.

Nobody is going to come pluck us out of this distressing situation. Sitting down and waiting to die in frustration and despair is a pretty miserable way to go. And I'm afraid that we can't go home again -- it either isn't there anymore, or it is a place that we were trying to leave.

I don't think dogged determination to keep going is fruitful. Obama's "clean power plan" may have been one way forward in the climate struggle, but we're not going to be able to rebuild that one any time soon. The issues and the strategies that had guided us recently are not the way forward.

So take a moment for reflection. Step back from the short-term strategies, and remember that enticing final destination. Perhaps you might call it "a just and sustainable society" or "the beloved community." Maybe it is "God's shalom" or "the realm of God." Surely there is another way to get there than the one path we had been following. It might take a bit longer, or be harder work, but our journey does not have to be over.

Actually, the "recalculating" when a course adjustment is needed is easier if the final goal is far away. There are not a lot of paths to a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions from US power plants. There are a lot of ways to get to a global system of diversified and low-carbon electrical generation. And there are an almost infinite number of ways to make progress toward the beloved community.

Where is it we really want to go? How can we get there through this new landscape?

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I've been in a number of settings recently with groups singing the civil rights era song, "Keep your Eyes on the Prize". It is a song about perseverance in difficult circumstances. None of the singers has stopped to do an analysis of the song's message, because the notion of focusing on the desirable goal so easily speaks to today's frustration and confusion.

Matthew 6:33 says, "But strive first for the kingdom of God and God's righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Keep your eyes on the prize, and a way will be found to deal with the other stuff.

When we identify our long-term goals with God's purposes -- in beloved community, in justice and peace, in shalom -- then, indeed, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." Then our journey is ultimately joyous, and there will always be a way forward.

Inauguration Day maybe earthshaking, but it is not the end of the journey. Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on. We'll make this journey together.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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